Did you ever feel like if all of a sudden, out of nowhere, you’re dying? Do you suddenly feel overtaken and overwhelmed by multiple, simultaneous extreme sensations (heart beating, dizziness, fainting, Feeling like you’re having a heart attack, tingling fingers or arms, numbness, chest pressure, etc.)?
Then chances are you’ve experienced a panic attack. For most people, this experience is debilitating, scary and extreme. It is so dreadful that you start to fearing fear itself, fear of having another panic attack. It is not unusual for some people to rush to the ER desperately seeking help when experiencing a panic attack. It’s that bad!
Sometimes, panic attacks are associated with specific situations such as fear of open spaces or sometimes panic attacks just happen randomly. For the first situation, technically, it is called panic attack with a agoraphobia. Regardless, panic attacks become an awful experience and there is no getting used to it.
Question then, what to do about it? First thing is to get qualified help. A licensed psychologist will be able to help. The treatment is composed of several important elements. One is better understanding the symptoms and realizing it’s a panic attack and not death situation (sometimes it might help to have a checkup and rule out any concerns such as heart functioning and, especially, thyroid functioning). However, once you recognize it’s a panic attack, you should remain calm and learn how to breathe (and not hyperventilate). Proper breathing and relaxation techniques are a big, first step. The next step is gradual exposure if the panic attacks are associated with a specific situation such as driving in the highway (imaginal and/or in-vivo) to fight the avoidance (the more you avoid the situation the bigger the fear becomes). Over time, proper understanding and the right breathing and relaxation techniques should help overcome most situations. Sometimes, however, in more extreme cases, medication (e.g. SSRI’s also called anti-depressants) may be necessary yet very effective (consult with your physician or psychiatrist for this). In summary, don’t wait, access a qualified specialist!